Selecting the Birth Control That's Right for You
Birth control comes in many different types. Some involve hormones; some don't. Other types are more expensive and long-term. Still, others require less upkeep. Birth control definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition, which makes it tricky to find the correct method specifically for yourself.
Before you commit to any type of birth control, you need to conduct some research and probably have a conversation with your doctor. We present the basics here to help you make this important decision.
Exploring nonhormonal birth control
If sex plays a small role in your life right now, then you may consider short-term contraceptives for protection. Plenty of nonhormonal options are available.
Birth control methods such as the cervical cap, contraceptive sponge, diaphragm and internal condoms don't contain hormones, require little upkeep, and are easy to use, according to Planned Parenthood.
In most cases, these options are also affordable.
This silicone contraceptive is inserted into the vagina before sex and must be removed afterward. Spermicide—a cream or gel containing chemicals that help prevent sperm from reaching an egg—is used to make it more effective. The cervical cap can be left inside the vagina for up to two days, and once it is removed from the vagina, it must be washed with soap and warm water and stored in a safe, dry place.
A cervical cap is reusable with proper care. A prescription is required, and it's rated as high as 86 percent effective, as long as it's used correctly. However, cervical caps are not very user-friendly. They're much smaller than a diaphragm and tend to be difficult to insert and remove. It takes practice to use cervical caps.
This single-use contraceptive is inserted into the vagina before a woman has sex. Contraceptive sponges shouldn't be left inside the vagina for more than 30 hours and cannot be reused. Upsides to this type of birth control include that it's relatively affordable—typically about $15 for a pack of three—no prescription is required, and the effectiveness can be as high as 88 percent if used properly.
A similar alternative to the cervical cap, the diaphragm is also a reusable silicone cap. A diaphragm is a bendable, dome-shaped cap that blocks the cervix to prevent pregnancy. It is most effective when used in conjunction with spermicide. A diaphragm cannot be left inside the vagina for more than 30 hours, and once it is removed, a diaphragm must be washed with soap and warm water and stored in a safe, dry place. A prescription is required, and diaphragms are rated as 88 percent effective.
Also known as female condoms, internal condoms are a relatively affordable birth control method. The female condom is just as affordable as the classic male condom and is similar in function, though it is used by inserting the condom into the vagina. No prescription is required, and internal condoms are rated at around 79 percent effective.
Female condoms can be bulky and difficult to insert. Of course, male condoms are another nonhormonal option for contraception. Both types not only provide birth control but also prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Hormonal birth control options
If you're looking for a long-term contraceptive and aren't averse to hormones, you have a number of options. The three included here all require a prescription and are rated better than 90 percent effective.
Birth control pill
By far one of the most popular birth control methods, the pill helps prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from fertilizing an egg through the use of hormones. The pill disperses hormones into the body that stop ovulation. When this happens, there is no egg present to be fertilized by sperm. This method requires you to take a pill every day at the same time.
Birth control pills are greatly favored due to multiple positive health effects with their use, such as improvement of acne, decreased flow and cramps, prevention of ovarian cysts, and long-term prevention of both uterine and ovarian cancers.
A vaginal ring is a small, flexible piece of plastic that is inserted into the vagina once a month. The ring prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones into the body that stop ovulation from happening, therefore preventing pregnancy.
The ring contains the same hormones as the pill but uses a different delivery system. The ring is good for women who have problems remembering to take a daily pill.
Birth control patch
Usually lasting for about a week after application, a birth control patch is applied on your skin, either on your stomach, upper arm, back or buttocks. It works by releasing a combination of progesterone and estrogen to prevent ovulation, that is, when an egg is released from the ovaries during your monthly cycle. The patch must be replaced regularly.
However, the birth control patch has fallen out of favor. Since there is direct absorption of the estrogen and it does not need to be metabolized by the liver, the systemic or whole-body levels are much higher, which leads to a higher incidence of blood clots.
Other long-term contraceptive methods include the implant, the hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) and the Depo-Provera shot. The shot helps prevent pregnancy for three months, while a birth control arm implant is good for three years, and the hormonal IUD can last for five or more years. There is also a nonhormonal IUD which is good for 10 years.
Deciding on a birth control method is an important decision. Conducting your own research can help you pick a method that is most compatible with your needs.